Raptors are Excellent Co-workers

Reflecting on my time here as an outreach extern and then a rehab extern has been a bittersweet journey.  After seven and a half months of working at the Center, I’m on my way home.  These two positions have taught me a lot, both professionally and personally, and I’d like to share a few thoughts on my experiences of both.

First, outreach.  If you remember my first blog post from back in March - “Immerse” - baby, we’ve come a long way.  This position taught me how to better present myself and my knowledge to the public, simplify my message, and represent the Center in an honest, yet appealing way.  I learned from the best three people out there, and their guidance was at the epicenter of my growth.

I think my biggest takeaway from being an extern with outreach was that working with the public is a pleasant challenge.  Many times I found myself hungry to learn more about something because someone on a tour asked me a question and I didn’t know the answer.  I know I’ve learned a great deal since being here, and I could talk forever about what I know, but there was always the occasional question about crows/opossums/bears/deer/etc. that would have me stumped, and after the tour I’d go do some research and try to figure out the answer.

The public keeps you humble this way.  Just when you think you know the answers to all the basic questions, and a little less about the more in-depth concepts, someone will come in and stump you. 

I like that about working in outreach -- it challenges me to constantly learn, so that I may teach more effectively.  If I don't know, I want to know, so that I can tell you later.  I am only as good as the message I can convey, and that keeps me a student to this field. 

P.S.  Raptors as coworkers are better than people.  Next time Nancy from HR is giving you a hard time about what you said to Bill at the holiday party, just think how much simpler it’d all be if they were birds instead.  Had to add that morsel in.

And then ... rehab.  I got to put my knowledge to practical use and learned about the up-close-and-personal care from many of Virginia’s native species.  (Shout out to rehabilitator Brie Hashem, who knows more about birds than I could ever hope to know.)

Now, listen.  I’m not going to lie.  The hours I spent during my shifts in the rehabilitation department were long, and being on your feet for 12 hours a day is tough work.  The reason we go home exhausted is for the animals that we are returning to the wild, and that makes it worth it.

My favorite part of daily rounds (where the rehabilitation, veterinary, front desk, and outreach staff come together to discuss the animals in our care) was the “Call for Release” portion when we discussed who’s going home that day. It was like the light at the end of the tunnel that reassured us that, yes, what we’re doing IS making a difference. 

Seeing those critters fly/run/crawl off into the distance is an intensely gratifying feeling I just can't put into words. 

Something I didn’t know about myself before starting this externship (a fact of which I became aware very quickly) was that I am a super fan of opossums.  The way they use their little hands to pick up mouse chunks and smack their lips as they feast stirs up a joy in me that no other creature ever has, nor ever will. They’re a very misunderstood species, and working with them from infancy to releasable juveniles convinced me that everyone’s mind could be changed if they were afforded the time I’ve had with them, too. 

But, let me tell you, what a let down an opossum release can be, especially when compared to watching the iconic Ed Clark thrust a Bald Eagle into the air as people cheer and clap in the background. When you release opossums, they often won’t leave their crate without encouragement, or play dead upon exiting said crate, or just mosey slowly away into the woods taking their sweet time while you're being eaten alive by mosquitos.

That moment, though, is still worth every 12-hour day we work, and every itchy bug bite incurred so that the wild animals are afforded a second chance at being wild and finally going home.

And now that I’m going home, seven and a half months didn’t seem enough, and I wish I had just a little more time.

--Lauren Edzenga
Class of 2017 (spring 2017 outreach extern, summer 2017 rehabilitation extern)